Of all the genres of art we are now familiar with, all but a very few are products of modernism and the bourgeois takeover of the art world in the 20th century. Portraiture, landscape, still life: all of these artistic staples were once considered the low, crass art of those who painted with motives no nobler than wanting to make a daily wage. In the Academic European art world, only one genre was really given much credulity, at least until the more revolutionary currents that would define the industrial world would come to power in later years. This genre was History Painting, the grand, noble task of representing not only human “history,” but philosophy, mythology and allegory. Any painter could reproduce a pretty face or a plate of fruit, but it took a master artist to capture the humanist values that defined European culture. And most of the time that artist was a man.
I probably shot myself in the foot, socially speaking, when I let my inner art snob accompany me on a recent date.
We were looking at board games for sale and my date, a nice sciency fellow who knew I was into art and was probably trying to be congenial, pointed to a jigsaw puzzle for sale and said “You know, I’ve always really liked these Thomas Kinkade paintings.”
“That seals it,” I said grimly. “You and I will never be friends.”
As uncharitable as it may come across, and as much as it may have sealed my spinsterly fate for a while longer, I feel it an obligation for those of us in the know to educate our friends. Yes, Thomas Kinkade really is that bad. Continue reading “Doubting Thomas”
Last month I had an opportunity to head down to Utah and do the Mormon Art Trifecta – The Church Museum of History and Art, The BYU Museum of Art, and the Springville Museum of Art. I had heard marvelous things particularly about BYU MOA’s Beholding Salvation exhibit and was excited to get to experience it. Unfortunately, my timing was bad and I just missed Beholding Salvation, but the other two museums didn’t let me down, with a Relief Society exhibit at the Church Musuem and the annual Spring Salon in Springville (upon which I shall elaborate in an upcoming post) making the trip worthwhile.
Well, it looks like my next trip, if I can make it to Sister Sato’s Salt Lake wedding at the end of August, will redeem BYU MOA for me this summer. Mormon art’s very own primadonna Minerva Teichert will be featured in an exhibit that promises to be far more fascinating even than her usually superb artwork.
“Minerva Teichert: Pageants in Paint,” opens on Friday, July 27 and will run through May 26, 2008. It features some of her work from private collections not seen before, which is promising enough, but the theme of the exhibit is a focus on the influence of pageants and murals on the seminal turn-of-the-century woman artist.
We’ve seen Teichert at her most dramatic in the Manti temple – the world room boasting a proud procession of temporal history. But what this exhibit promises to unfold is the influence that American mural paintings as well as the distinctly Utah art culture of drama and dance had on Teichert’s 2-dimensional work. The social and historical implications of this as well are fascinating, and I for one am excited to catch the opening act. I hope those of you who can make it will take the chance to see the exhibit.
The world today is too big; too full of sheer human inertia. I don’t think any of us can comprehend the magnitude of cultural currents as we drop pebbles just to watch the water ripple. We think ourselves educated, well-read, perhaps a little hungry for exploration but for the most part masters of our own little worlds and the way things are. And every once in a while we are lucky enough to get enough of a peek out of our own paradigms to realize that we don’t know anything. This happens culturally; this happens spiritually. And when it happens, the results are usually exhilarating and terrifying.
As missionaries in Japan, we didn’t meet many Christians. But we met a lot of savvy, educated people. And a lot of them had seen The DaVinci Code. It was an odd development halfway through my mission when casual street contacts evolved from “Oh, you’re Christians! My daughters go to Christian school!” into “Oh, you’re Christians! I know all about Christianity. I watched The DaVinci Code.”
In this post, I’d like to briefly outline what I see as the major problems with a currently popular style in LDS visual arts, a style that I’ve nicknamed “sunset in Arcadia.” This post will concentrate on the aesthetic aspect – what works and doesn’t work in creating relevant Latter-day Saint art. In a future post, I will discuss marketing and economic trends that prove similarly troublesome.
The average art viewer isn’t schooled in various styles and may have trouble differentiating what he does and doesn’t like in various pieces of art, but most people enjoy seeing something that looks “real.” The mere feat of making a two-dimensional surface look like a three-dimensional object or, even better, a recognizable person, is something laudable to most art consumers. Many laymen will tell you that their preferred style is “realism.” But it is this confusion of terminology that proves so troublesome in defining an artistic style, especially when most LDS art produced currently is produced for a middle-class market; there is a built-in filter of populism whenever an artist considers making a career of a talent.
or, Opening a Critical Discourse in Mormon Visual Arts
As a fan of LDS author Orson Scott Card, I have long frequented his website and discussion forum, a place which has shaped my ideas of civil discourse. It was at Hatrack River that I learned the meaning of words like ad hominem and strawman and acquired an uncanny radar for the oft-confused correlation and causation. For a long time, my exposure to online discourse was rather exclusive to Hatrack, and it wasn’t until my final years of college that I began to venture into new venues, among which I discovered Card’s other forum, Nauvoo: a Community for Latter-day Saints.
The folks at Nauvoo are friendly, open to newcomers, and fond of online emotion. It was easy for me to open up and join whole-heartedly in their discussions.I was a bit taken aback, however, to the response one day when I replied to a discussion on recent LDS cinema. I had posted my review of the new rendition of Pride and Prejudice, which I had enjoyed upon initial viewing, but upon reflection was troubled with its insular depiction of a very narrow subsection of beautiful, wealthy Provo people as indicative of the Mormon population. The reply to my critique was a sardonic one-lined, “well gee – why don’t you tell us how you really feel?” Continue reading “Dissension in the Ranks”